Los Lobos excited for weekend in New England
For California’s Los Lobos, this weekend is all about New England. The multiple Grammy Award–winning band will bring their signature sound to the Newport Yachting Center in Rhode Island tonight as part of the Newport Sunset Music Series. Tomorrow, they’ll make their way to Greenfield, Massachusetts for a set at the Green River Festival.
Together for almost 40 years, Los Lobos is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their groundbreaking album Kiko. While the band garnered success before the album’s release, including a number one cover of “La Bamba”, Kiko stood out for its creative vision which fused many of the band’s styles. Next month, the band will release a special anniversary edition of the album, which will feature bonus material including demo versions of album tracks and live recordings, as well as new liner notes written by Los Angeles journalist and longtime friend of the band, Luis Torres. Los Lobos will also release “Kiko Live” on CD, DVD and a 2-disc Blu-ray/CD set. The set captures their February 24, 2006, performance at the House Of Blues in San Diego, where the band performed Kiko in its entirety. The film also contains interviews with the band and others involved in the making of the studio album.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Los Lobos saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin to discuss the special anniversary, upcoming shows and his appreciation for New England’s music lovers.
Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): How has the tour been going on so far? Have you been focusing mostly on Kiko tracks or a little bit of new and old?
Steve Berlin (SB): It’s actually a little bit of new and old. The Kiko release is still about a month and a half off so we’re not quite at the Kiko shows. But we’re incorporating a bit of it into our shows. The tour has been going really well. We were in Europe for a week. It’s been a lot of fun in some cool places. We’ve been in New York for the past couple of days, which has been a lot of fun and now we’re on our way to [New England].
BMS: How has your relationship with Kiko changed over the years?
SB: That’s an interesting question. It’s amazing how resilient it is. Sometimes we’ll listen to some stuff, not a lot earlier than Kiko, and it’ll sound a bit dated. We’re not in any way embarrassed about it, but you can sort of hear where we were at. It doesn’t have quite it. They nice thing about Kiko is that it’s timeless and I say that with utmost modesty. It’s kind of amazing how it stands out and how it still sounds like it was recorded yesterday. And the songs are fun to play. We’ve done shows where we play a setlist from 20 year ago and it’s enjoyable and cool and private but you’re very conscious that it’s in the past. I think with Kiko it still sounds very current.
BMS: Looking back on the album, how did it transform your career?
SB: Certainly, the main thing for us as a band, was that it was the first time we had thrown any sense of caution to the wind. The first time we used everything we had. We had always done our records like, we’d do a folklore song in a folklore style, we’d do a country song in a country style. We kept our influences in boxes and Kiko was the first time we said, “What if we did a folklore rhythm on a country song or a Cajun rhythm on a folklore song?” It was the first time we decided to use all the colors in our palette. And it never really changed from that moment forward. We tried to use everything we had and make records as varied and compelling as possible. Not that we didn’t do that before but all of those styles are what made us different and as well as Kiko.
BMS: Back then did you know you were working on something so special?
SB: No, you never do. You can only accept what is done and look back. But while you’re in the middle of it, you’re just trying to get it done. While you’re working on it, the process is always the same. You just try to avoid sucking.
BMS: Are there any tracks on Kiko that you’re particularly proud of or your personal favorites?
SB: I always liked the song “Peace”. That one’s always been kind of special. I mean, out of all of them, there’s not really one that stands out. The record makes me happy. One of the things on the upcoming release that’s pretty cool is the director of the DVD didn’t just get the live show, but he got myself, the band and the producers talking about it. Everyone has their own take on how it came to be and it’s just really, really well done.
BMS: That album was always praised for its innovation, as well as a lot of others that came after. How does that mentality translate to your live shows?
SB: It’s a little bit harder with the live shows. We have a process when we make the records with certain technology. And when we play live, it comes down to what we have to pay to move our stuff around that prevents us from doing much of anything in that regard. There’s no way in the world we could travel with all the stuff we’d like to travel with. Inevitability, we like to pull it off with the stuff we have as best as we can. The tool box we have when we go into a recording studio is so different. To me, when I go see a band live, I don’t need all that stuff. The last thing I want to see is someone pulling off exactly what they did on the album. I find that boring and extreme. I like to see things change and go to a different place. We try to do that to a certain extent because we have to.
BMS: The band’s 40th anniversary is next year. Are you planning anything for that?
SB: We haven’t talked about it, so I guess we should start talking about it. We don’t really look back a lot.This Kiko thing is about as far in retrospection we’ve gone. We don’t really think about what we’ve done. We just go at it every day.
BMS: You’ve been together for over 40 years and you’ve seen how music tastes and consumption have evolved. What has helped you succeed and keep your original sound?
SB: I feel we were really lucky to start when we started. We built a fan base and the expectations, or I guess lack there of, of our fans allowed us to experience and go wherever we want to go. We never thought or worried about that or people wanting us to change anything. We’ve luckily never had to. We try to challenge ourselves and for better or worse, we assume the fans are going to go with it. To a certain extent, freedom helped us. I can’t say because we aren’t starting out now, but if we were, you have a longer, harder road to go. You’re expected to be it on it a lot longer than we had to. But that said, they are going to much savvier about the business and be entrepreneurial. When we started, the record company did everything and that’s how things were. But a band now, you have to have a level of your stuff together to go anywhere. You have to understand social media. You have to understand marketing. The bands that are successful now, that says a lot about them then back when we started, so that’s definitely a positive thing.
BMS: Are you working on any new material?
SB: No, we are not. That usually takes a lot longer. We’re pretty slow in that sense. Frankly, I don’t see any of us doing that until the fall of next year sometime. The process of making a record for us, it takes a while to get us there. It’s not easy. Once we’re going it’s fine but not up until that moment. For the time being we’re going to focus on Kiko and start thinking about stuff probably a year from now.
BMS: You’ve said in the past that the New England audience has always embraced your sound. Why do you think your music connects so well to this region?
SB: My sense of the New England audience is that there are so many great bands from that area, so there’s a high bar. You appreciate, and I say this with great modesty, people who do what we do. We try to execute at a high level and the fans become used to people with a high level of professionalism and we deliver a set they’ve been accustomed to. That actually sounds incredibly pompous. We just always enjoy coming back and we have so many good friends in the area. We seem to be in some parts of the country, like Chicago, all the time and we don’t go here a lot, so when we do, it’s special.
BMS: Do you have anything upcoming with Diamond Rugs?
SB: We’re going to be doing a tour in the fall in October and November all over the country. I’m already working on the new Deer Tick record. So I’ll be connected to the north east.
BMS: How did you get involved with that?
SB: John McCauley went to a show Los Lobos was doing in Providence right around this time in July and said we’re going to make a record together. Just “Dude we’re going to make a record together” and we’ve made two.
BMS: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
SB: Something a little bit different about these New England shows is it’s a combination of everything we do. It has ancient folklore instruments. Everything from 200 year old folk songs to more recent stuff. So you get a lot of bang with your entertainment dollar.
Los Lobos will perform at the Newport Yachting Center in Newport, Rhode Island tonight as part of the Newport Sunset Music Series. Tickets for the show are available for $24 and $44. On Saturday, The band will perform at the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Tickets for the festival are available for $55 in advance or $75 at the gate.